50 Years of Mobility Devices
Once upon a time there was a wooden wheelchair and a wooden leg? No wait, that's not going to work. The wheelchairs of 50 years ago, were, well, basic. In 1933 the first folding frame metal wheelchair was designed by HC Jennings and Herbert Everest, who wanted a wheelchair that would fit in his car.1933 is also the year that polio survivor, Franklin D Roosevelt, became president of America.
Up until fairly recent times, Everest's folding wheelchairs were also used for wheelchair sports. They were exceptionally heavy and big wooden blocks be placed on the cross-bar folding mechanisms to prevent folding.
The credit for the first motorised wheelchair is debated. Everest and Jennings started placing motorised units on their folding frame wheelchairs in1956. It had no circuit board, only two speeds - high and low - and to change speed your first had to stop. Movement was very jerky, partially due to the joystick steering that had four on/off levers for direction.
Swedish doctor, Per Udden, revolutionized power wheelchairs in 1963, by introducing unique technical features suchas power-tilt, folding arm and leg supports, and front-wheel drive. The BritishWrigley wheelchair of 1963, was the first motorised wheelchair for outdoors.
The biggest development after the 50s and 60s came in the 1980s when the first rigid frame wheelchairs were produced. Today's wheelchairs vary as much as the people who use them. Wheelchairs can be lighter, stronger, faster, more agile, more stable, more supportive and safer. Foldable, rigid, sport, 4X4, motorised indoor; motorised outdoor andbuggies are all available.
The most recent mobility developments include superior cushions, chairs that can handle stairs, the handcycle, carbonfibre ultra-light frames, frameless wheelchairs and robotic exoskeletons.
When Oscar Pistorius wanted to compete at the Beijing Olympics 2008, the sporting world was up in arms, claiming that his prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage over the other athletes!! How far the world of prosthetics have come!
Fifty years ago prostheticlegs were attached to the residual limb using a suction-mechanism, harnesses and straps. Knee joints were hydraulic, ankle joints were rigid and lightweight materials were unheard of.
As with most assistive devices, today's prosthetic limbs are lighter, more functional and, most importantly, they mimic the movements of the lost limbs. Linershave also been developed in antimicrobial materials that position, cushion andprotect the residual stump.
In developing countries many amputees still carve a wooden leg and attach it using whatever means they can. At the other end of this spectrum are spring-loaded blades, such as the ?ssur blades used by Oscar, and the Vanderbilt Center for Intelligent Mechatronics Bionic Leg. This Bionic Leg uses the latest computer,sensor, electric motor and battery technology and is the first prosthetic leg with powered knee and ankle joints operating in harmony. But of course, such devicesare out of the reach of most South African pockets.